*repost of my article in May 15, 2011 issue of Cordillera Today
I am looking at a copy of the souvenir program for the play, “Manifest Destiny,” staged in 2001 – I am amazed by the number of advertisements in it, a rare occurrence in Open Space’s journey as an independent theater group in Baguio.
With corporate sponsors and the local government continuing to ignore theater and pouring in their support for beauty pageants instead, we were limited to plays with minimal casting and production requirements. In the remaining years of the 20th century, we staged a series of collections of monologues, “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll,” “Tonyo/Pepe,” and “Mga Ina ng Bayan.” But things were looking up: ticket prices to plays went up from P25.00 to P35.00. We can now print posters and souvenir programs on newsprint.
On the eve of the new millennium, the Baguio Arts Guild was resurrected with the 1999 Baguio Arts Festival. While most of its original members have given it up for dead, one of its original founding members, Santiago Bose, almost single-handedly kept it afloat. We “unofficially” participated in the festival: Ferdie Balanag has just returned to Baguio after a couple of years’ absence, and itching to get right back on the local art circuit, invited me to collaborate with him on “Saka-saka”, a performance art-piece which was performed under, around and on the mulberry trees in the garden of Martha Lovina’s residence in Mines View.
The following year, 2000, we opened a gallery - The Workshop for Creative Survival. The name was borrowed from my mother’s series of workshops for the underprivileged and children of political detainees in the 80’s. There we held workshops, performances and exhibits. Ferdie and I re-staged “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll” at the gallery in what was perhaps Baguio’s smallest theater with a maximum seating capacity of just 12, this time bringing in another local actor, CJ DeRaedt. We didn’t get a full house. My sister, Carina Altomonte, after teaching a visual arts workshop during the summer of 2000, had her first solo exhibit at the gallery, which I dubbed “Out in the Open,” now the title of my column here. Her exhibit was followed by another solo show, this time by Rene Aquitania, which opened without his works which weren’t ready on opening day. Though that day didn’t end without a spectacle: an impromptu performance in the middle of the street featuring the cutting of Rene’s long hair that had the gallery’s neighbors calling the police to stop the performance. The gallery ran for several months, but as in most artistic endeavors, we couldn’t sustain it financially.
We brought out that packing tape and closed it down and decided to once again just focus on our first love: theater, under Open Space.
The early years of the new millennium ushered in the digital revolution: digital stills, digital videos, digital graphics, etc. Open Space’s succeeding productions then explored these new tools coming up with fresh approaches to play production. Ferdie would later put up a multimedia outfit, the Workshop for Infinite Media, with which Open Space collaborated in our production of the musical, “Pangarap.”
But just as the local arts scene seem to be having a renaissance, politics reared its ugly head once again one gloomy afternoon at the Greenhouse Effect Gallery of the Baguio Arts Guild.